What do you think makes acting worthwhile?
It's helped me a lot with my confidence for the rest of my life. Using somebody else's voice and lines helped me conquer my stutter. I never used to answer the phone for example.
I've got friends who are very confident on stage or on a TV set, but you get them out in public and they clam up. Some people find it easier performing than they do being themselves.
There's not really enough encouragement, when it comes to acting. I was encouraged by my mother. People do ask me how you get into [acting], and they don't seem to have much encouragement from parents or teachers.
It's seen as a hobby, because the idea is that most actors don't work much. You need to have that real drive and passion, make your own luck. If you want to do it, you will.
More on acting »
Why do you think Shakespeare is important?
If you've got any sort of inkling towards acting, he's one of the best playwrights ever, if not the best. If you can tackle the text and understand it, it's a great experience.
I think too many schools push you away from doing it, or at least taking it seriously, and don't give the kids a chance. My memories are of proud English masters walking around with their arms behind their backs reciting the text that they love and understand, but not really teaching.
I didn't enjoy Shakespeare at school at all. I went to public school, where we were taught to shut up and listen, and I therefore have a bit of an aversion to Shakespeare.
I'm starting to appreciate it more - I think the main thing is understanding it. I just felt lost as a teenager learning Shakespeare. We were taught about the beautiful language and we weren't really taught what it meant.
It's a great introduction to acting, although I would say it's a very difficult one. It's something that's a great challenge for anyone. If you can get your teeth stuck into it, then you can tackle anything.
More about why Shakespeare's worthwhile »
What are your top acting tips?
When I read my scripts, I go through all the scenes that I'm in, and make a note of where they're set, who else is in the scenes, and a quick synopsis of what happens to my character in the scene.
Then I'll go back through the script and see what information is contained in other scenes, that I would need to know. Because we shoot scenes out of order, I always make a point of knowing where I am. Have I had that argument yet, have I seen this person yet, all this kind of stuff. That makes it a lot easier to be more natural.
You can get a line sometimes, something like, "Good morning, how are you?" Because it's the first scene that you've done of the episode, you play it normally. Then you realise, "hang on a minute, that's scene 15 and in scene 14 we've had a big argument", so should have said it in a sarcastic way. So that's one trick.
More top tips »
What's the best way of dealing with stage fright?
The most daunting thing I've ever managed was presenting - I did a Saturday morning TV show. (SM:TV - Ed.)
You have to keep telling yourself that you're good enough, and you have to keep practicing and really compose yourself. Go and find a quiet space just to chill out and say, "I can do this, I know it, no one here knows it better than me, they've chosen me to do it, and I am good enough." Then you have to go out and really give yourself every chance of performing.
It's like any sort of art. If you're nervous, you're not relaxed, so you can't really impress people. Confidence is very impressive, but a lot of celebrities get it a bit wrong and come over as arrogant. When they step off the stage they've still got this air of supreme confidence, which isn't that attractive.
More about avoiding stage-fright »
What should you never do when acting?
One thing you should never do is fall out of character.
[If I had] a difficult speech coming up, when I first started on Hollyoaks, I'd think, "I can't mess this speech up", so [I'd be] preparing myself two or three speeches in advance. You lose eye contact with your opposite number in the scene, you're looking away, and taking a deep breath, and you end up hitting that one speech as an individual speech, rather than thinking the thoughts and it just coming out of you.
Learn the prose in a back and forth [way], and really really practice it. The more you do that, then more natural it's going to come, until it looks as if you've thought of the line as you're saying it, rather than building up towards it.
More things you should never do »
How do you get into a role?
For [James' current role as Abs in Casualty] I did a bit of research. I went down to the local Bristol Royal Infirmary, and shadowed both an A&E nurse and a psychiatric liaison officer. I tried to understand their environment and their hours and their lifestyle.
Although you can't have the experience of having done the job, you can see how it affects them. They get patients coming in, screaming and effing and blinding, and it would affect me very differently, but they seem very calm.
The main thing about acting, is that we're always told to create truth, and if you're really thinking the thoughts, you stop acting and start being. It took me six months of doing this character before I really thought as Abs, rather than just thinking, "Right, what would he be thinking now? He's done this training, he's come from this background, he's had this experience, and now this has happened to him, what would he do?" Whereas now, I just do it, because I've been practicing for six months. That's the main way for me.
More about taking on roles »
What's your advice for performing Shakespeare?
I think the main thing, with any prose, is to try and understand it and think the thoughts. It's almost a foreign language, Shakespeare's English, so you've got to really get to grips with the meaning of it, and then you can start thinking the thoughts rather than just reading it. I've seen people do Shakespeare and they seem to be just reciting - there's no thought behind the eyes and no real passion in it.
When I saw Romeo + Juliet, with Leonardo DiCaprio, I thought that was brilliant, because it was completely different from the play that I'd read at school, and yet it was completely the same text. It got a lot of criticism, but I thought it was brilliant. They really went for it. It modernises it in a fantastic way, without taking away from the text.
More about performing Shakespeare »
What's your favourite Shakespeare character and play?
Henry IV part one, because I liked Falstaff and Hal.
More actors' favourites »